Sunday, December 08, 2019

Where Have the Last 4 Weeks Gone? or The Harry Von Zells Make Their Debut

Shameful. Awkward. It's been a month since I've done a damn post about anything, let alone new releases or previews. The more I thought about it, the worse I felt about it, rather than channeling those emotions into action and that action into words. Not that I'm beholden to anyone with the blog but me. Maybe that's the problem. 

Not that there hasn't been a lot going on. There's been plenty. I have been writing for Pittsburgh Current over the last few weeks and getting a review or two penned for JazzTimes. Then there's the holidaze. Thanksgiving usually takes a lot out of me. In fact, that happened literally a couple years ago. My asthma was acting up so bad that after dinner, I drove myself to the ER because I felt short of breath and my inhaler wasn't doing it for me. (The wine with dinner didn't seem to help.) Plus, Thanksgiving is equated with loss in my brain. When I was 14, my great-aunt - who was like a surrogate grandmother on my mom's side - passed away the day before Thanksgiving. The way I found out made it even worse. I was out collecting the weekly fees for my paper route from customers. I got to the house where my aunt lived on the top floor, and my mom met me at the door and told me they found my aunt, who had apparently had a heart attack and died. Her sister, who lived with her for years, had passed five months earlier. 

Then five years ago, my dad passed the week before Thanksgiving. I think I've covered that in other blog posts, so I won't revisit that too much. I might have also talked at length about my aunt too. 

A few weeks before this Thanksgiving, I got word that a local jazz drummer, Carter Freije took his life. I had just seen him play with Michael and Peter Formanek and Patrick Breiner. Five days later he was gone. From what I've heard, he had been doing everything he could to keep himself from falling off the edge. It's hard. Let's look out for one another.

On a brighter note.....

....I finally got back onstage with a new band last week!! Yeah, that's me up above for anyone who might not realize it.

The Harry Von Zells made their debut at Howlers on Black Friday. The band is named for the late great radio announcer Harry Von Zell who also appeared on TV on the George Burns and Gracie Allen Show. In broadcast history, one of his big claims to fame was that he accidentally referred to President Herbert Hoover as "Hoobert Heever." I know him from a record of radio broadcasts featuring the Marx Brothers, in which Von Zell cut up with Groucho on Birds Eye Open House. My wife and I both thought it would be a hilarious band. Knowing that it might just be us that liked it, I was pleasantly surprised when I ran it by the band and they were cool with it. There's another local band called the Zells, but one of them works with me, and he gave me the okay when I ran the name past him.

This is the result of a collaboration with guitarist Erik Cirelli that goes back over about a year. He and I first got together to do some free improvisations. Then I thought it'd be cool to play rock with him. As the Love Letters came to an unceremonious close, Erik and I started looking for people to play with. We lucked out because Michael Cunningham, who sang and played keys in the band Neighbours, was interested in getting back in the saddle too. Then Erik remembered a cat named Nathan Figlar, who had played with in a few sessions.

Practices were dicey because we're all adults with adult responsibilities (I'm guilty of having the most inhibiting work schedule too) and gone are the days when live revolved around getting to the practice space, come hell or high water. Speaking of which, we realized that it would be better to have a practice space rather than do it in my basement, where we would be limited by my son's sleeping hours and where I'd have to do battle with laundry piles prior to having the guys over. It's been over 20 years since I've rented a space but it's nice to have one again. We're at a Guardian Storage building, which means that in my mind, that company make my brain automatically think about music, since the record collection I bought over the summer was being stored at a Guardian building. Now here I am making music at one of those places, able to crank up to an uninhibited volume level. The dopamine is flowing in my brain.

After a show, I usually find some element of it that gives me some sort of let down: turnout, mix, something about the way one chorus sounded, etc. That didn't happen last week. None of it. Some friends, from far-flung corners of my life, came out for the set, which always puts me in a good frame of mind. Plus there were others that I didn't know who were there. (I think our volume cleared the room for a bit, but hey, I'm okay with that.) And we played really well.

It was an eight-song set, which ended up being about 35 minutes total. We kicked off with a cover, though only about two people in the room probably recognized Big Dipper's "Stardom Because." I've wanted to cover that song for several years, and even got an accurate set of lyrics from Big Dipper's Gary Waleik and Steve Michener. Years ago, I might have been superstitious or self-conscious about launching a new band with other people's tunes, but I've always had a fondness for the song's musical question, "What ever became of all of the famous, who never got started?" I relate to that line - not because I have delusions of fame but because I feel like the bands I've been in have always kind of missed the boat. I also feel it encompasses Big Dipper, not to mention the co-composer of the song, Michael Cudahy, who played in the greatly underrated band Christmas, in the '80s/early '90s.

So, yeah, it was a good start to a new band. No upcoming gigs scheduled yet. At this point I'm gearing up for the Pittsburgh Record Fest #23, which is happening a week from today. For the first time in two years, I'm going to be selling at it., with a bunch of things from the big purchase of the summer. That preparation has been another thing swallowing up time. Hopefully more posts will come though.

No comments: